Big Steps in Building: Ban Demolition

Migrated Image

Walnut Hall, Toronto
TreeHugger defends the little steps that we all have to take to address the problems that face us, but we have to consider the big steps too, the initiatives that have to be legislated. Buildings consume 76% of electricity generated; they create 48% of our greenhouse gases; a quarter of our waste in landfills comes from construction. This series of big steps will deal with ideas for reducing that footprint. Big Step One:
Ban Demolition.

Robert Shipley and Jason Kovac write in ::Alternatives:

"Every brick in building required the burning of fossil fuel in its manufacture, and every piece of lumber was cut and transported using energy. As long as the building stands, that energy is there, serving a useful purpose. Trash a building and you trash its embodied energy too."

How much embodied energy?


Paul Rudolph House, Westport
Donovan Rypkema did the math:

"We all diligently recycle our Coke cans. It's a pain in the neck, but we do it because it's good for the environment. Here is a typical building in an American downtown — 25 feet wide and 120 feet deep. Today we tear down one small building like this in your downtown. We have now wiped out the entire environmental benefit from the last 1,344,000 aluminum cans that were recycled. We've not only wasted an historic building, we've wasted months of diligent recycling by the people of your community.

We care about recycling cans, but why not buildings?


Abandoned house, Detroit

Old buildings are part of the texture of our communities. They were built in a style and a height for a time before air conditioning and ubiquitous elevators, and have strong bones that are easily adapted to modern green ideas. Lawyer Mark Denhez suggests a Code of Best Urban Practice to preserve them:

Official plans must recognize that rehab is important urban development.
* Local and national tax systems should encourage rehab and remove penalties in its path
* building codes must permit "equivalents"- safe rehab technologies, even if those technologies are different from those in new construction.
* City Halls have to talk to the rehab industry to learn about its concerns and how to increase investment.
* Public sector leasing policies must be at least even-handed toward rehabilitated buildings.


Wynant House, Frank Lloyd Wright, Milwaukee

Catherine Nasmith of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario (and who coined "landmarks, not landfill!" ) goes further: ban demolition completely. She suggests that there are few buildings that cannot be saved, upgraded, restored or renovated. If someone wants to take one down there had better be a damn good reason. She is interested in architectural history; we are interested in embodied energy, but the result is the same: Rehab it, don't blow it away.

We think more about recycling beer bottles and tin cans than we do about buildings. This has to change. ::Alternatives